Not all places are familiar with black bear encounters. But at least most of us may have seen Yogi Bear. This Hanna-Barbera character has depicted how bears can be a nuisance to humans especially during picnic season. If you are from North America, black bear encounters may be common. But rather than fleeing for your life, equip yourself with enough information regarding black bears. It is better to actually prevent black bears from becoming a nuisance than trying to trap and relocate them.
The American Black Bear is native to North America. Their population is estimated to be 750,000. The average life span for black bears is 18 years. Black bears are large animals. Adult male bears can weigh from 120 to 300 kg and stand 4 to 6 feet (from tip of nose to tip of tail). That’s as huge as an average adult male. Female black bears are relatively smaller, weighing only 45 to 170 kg. Their maximum length is 5.5 feet. It takes five to eight years for black bears to reach their maximum height and length. Weight increase in bears relies mainly on food availability. Abundance food supply would result to around 1 kg weight increase per day. It is also possible for a bear to have doubled its weight by fall. Majority of black bears have black coat although there have been instances where they are colored dark brown, cinnamon, or blond brown. These instances allow them to be mistaken for grizzly bears. Grizzly bears are distinguished by the shoulder hump and a more concave skull.
Male black bears are easy to distinguish against their female counterparts. Adult male bears would have well-developed muscle masses on their heads and broader snouts. Their ears look small in proportion to their large heads. Female adult bears have smaller necks and smaller frames. A standing female bear will have evident nipples.
Black bears are known omnivores. They will feed on plants, honey, insects, nuts, fishes, and small mammals. They are commonly portrayed catching salmon along rivers. Black bears would also kill young deer for food. They are primarily found in forested areas where vegetation is abundant. However, they can be extremely adaptable which leads to their human encounter. Their feeding pattern is based on the season and available food. During spring, they would feed on leaves and flowers such as clover and dandelions. Their source of protein during this time would be the deer fawns. When summer comes, black bears are known to feed on ant colonies and bee hives. They would also scavenge for berries, dogwoods and various currants. Fall is their time to feed on nuts such as hazelnuts and acorns.
Black bears are actually solitary animals. They would scavenge for food alone except for mothers and cubs. They do tolerate each other if the area is abundant with food.
Damage and Control
Since black bears constantly feed throughout the year, a significant decrease in food availability would result to their search for alternate food sources. This triggers black bears to become a nuisance to humans. Both residential and suburban areas can be visited by bears when they are in search of food supply. Bears would be attracted to garbage cans, pet food and grills.
Bears have incredible memory. They will remember places where there is a constant supply of food. Therefore, it is important never to feed bears. Bears naturally hide from humans but feeding them would lose their fear of being around humans.
If you are feeding your pets outside your house, make sure they consume their food at a single feeding. Do not leave any of their food dishes outside, especially overnight. Bears can smell the food and may attack your area. Never leave your trash cans outside if you know there might be bears around your area. Have all your garbage in tight-locked containers inside a secure location. Regularly clean your garbage cans to avoid establishing strong food odor. Try double-bagging your trash and using bleach or ammonia.
If your family is the picnic-type, make sure you clean all barbecue and picnic grills with ammonia-based cleanser. Do not allow food residue to stay in your grills for a long time. Do not leave food scraps and dirty picnic utensils around your picnic area. Compost pile also be free from any scraps of meat, vegetable, or fruit.
Dispose of soiled diapers if you have a baby in your house. Though it may appear gross, bears would actually be attracted to the fruit and vegetable residue in the diapers.
If you think your jar of jams are safe from black bears, think again. Black bears are highly dexterous. They are capable of opening both screw-top jars and door latches. Other than your daily human activities, here are other common bear nuisance and how to avoid them.
a. Damaged hives. We’ve been well-informed that bears are attracted to honey. For bee keepers, protecting your bee hives is an important task. Bears can knock down or consume your bee hives before you harvest your honey. Avoid placing your hives near wooded areas. Place them near each other then erect permanent electric fencing. Normal, wooden fencing will not work against these large, strong creatures. Black bears would return to the bee hives every night until all the honey and comb are eaten. You can detect bear damage if there are broken and scattered combs and hives. Make sure evidence shows the hives are attacked by black bears rather than skunks in order to identify proper control.
b. Eaten livestock. As much as possible, do not have livestock in fields near forests. Black bears would have easier access to your livestock if placed in abandoned locations. Your dead livestock must be disposed properly as they can attract bears in your area. Your livestock may be killed and dragged by the bear to a site where they can regularly feed on it. Electric fencing would again be effective for protection. Consider also placing a big guard dog to warn you of any approaching bears.
c. Destroyed crops. Your crops are in danger if black bears are hungry. Black bears would be eating the entire cob when attacking corn fields. This is in contrast to raccoons that chew the kernels from corn ears. Oats are also consumed by bears if available within their area. Orchards can also be a target for hungry bears. They will be breaking down the trees and branches to reach the fruits. Once a bear enters an orchard, it will return nightly for feeding. This can lead to significant economic loss if not addressed properly. Make sure you properly fence your orchards and fields. Similar to livestock and beehives, electric fencing will be effective against bears.
Trapping and killing bears must be the last action taking against bears. These actions must only be done once you have established the situation as a serious bear nuisance. Make sure that there are no more attractants present or there is now a high risk of human attack. Trapping bears would involve your choice of trap and bait considered most appetizing to the bear. Examples of baits are dead carcasses, honeycombs or canned meat. Traps should be designed to capture rather than harm the bear, especially if dealing with females with cubs. This means foot hold traps are not advised as it can later kill the captured bear.
Chemical immobilization of black bears must only be done when the animal is contained in a small area such as an alley. It must not be strong enough to kill the animal or inflict serious injury. Make sure the chemicals are not hazardous to the public.
Capturing bears would lead to relocation. Distance is important when relocating black bears. Their incredible memory allows them to return to feeding sites up to 200 kilometers. Make sure you relocate bears as far as possible to avoid them from returning to your site in a couple of days.
Never assume you are capable of killing a black bear. You may be capable of warding off timid bears during first interaction. But, returning bears are more aggressive. If a bear suddenly blows or pops its haw, it is warning you to move away. Make sure you call animal control or environmental police before you get hurt. Black bears would not normally attack but can cause severe damage once they do attack. Majority of black bear attacks occur in national parks, usually near camping grounds. Killing black bears is the most feasible option only if there are no other options available and there is a high risk for public safety. Bears are killed if they are already entering residences with no apparent fear for humans.